Community and Volunteers Launch Blue Zones Project in Cedar Rapids

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - People gathered on Monday night for the launch of an initiative that aims to improve health and well-being in Cedar Rapids.

Supporters of the "Blue Zones Project" gathered at Prairie High School for a community and volunteer kickoff event.

Cedar Rapids, Marion and Iowa City received Blue Zone designations at the beginning of the year. Those cities are now three of the 16 blue zone demonstration sites in Iowa. There were 19, but three have opted out of the initiative.

Organizers explain Blue Zones as places that makes the healthy choice the easy choice where people live, work and play. It also includes specifics for the community, like developing a tobacco policy and working on the designs of city streets.

For six months the Cedar Rapids Blue Zone staff has worked on a plan for Cedar Rapids, and now they're rolling it out.

"Tonight is day one, night one of implementation," said Blue Zones Cedar Rapids Engagement Lead Will Lenzen Jr.

Information about healthy living blasted people as they walked in the doors of Prairie High School. From here on out, Cedar Rapids can expect to see more Blue Zones programs and events.

"The Blue Zones Project here is set out to simply recreate environments of longevity here in America," said Author Dan Buettner.

The concept comes from Buettner who studied places in the world where people live longer. Now, the Blue Zones team is aiming to transform the city into an environment where people are healthier.

"We hope to see ordinances that start to favor locally grown and produced food as opposed to chain food or junk food," Buettner said.

People at Monday night's event mostly knew what the Blue Zones project was all about, while others outside of the kickoff program weren't so sure.

"I have never heard of it," said Jessica Spencer.

"I have heard the term but not much else about it," said Sarah Bunjer.

"I have heard of it. I believe it has to do with healthy living," said Robert Dickson.

"Those are the five places on earth people are the healthiest and happiest and people live the longest," said Donna Young who was attending Monday night's event.

The Blue Zones plan includes specific goals for schools, work sites, restaurants and individuals. People who pledge to take part are pledging to take small steps towards health, like growing a garden or adopting a dog. The Cedar Rapids staff is hoping to reach 20 percent of the population who is 13 and older.

Blue Zones staff members know they have a lot of work to do. The plan is to reach all of the project's goals by January of 2016. That's when they hope the city will earn the official designation of a "Certified Blue Zones Community."

The Project is sponsored by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Organizers said it would provide funding for programs.
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